Lawyers and other legal professionals are almost always thought of as being highly left-brained. After all, they tend to be heavily detail-oriented with a slant toward logic and analysis.
If you think about it, though, some of the greatest creative minds of our times are lawyers or former legal professionals.
People like actor/comedian John Cleese, authors Lisa Scottoline and John Grisham, film producer David E. Kelley, and the renowned artist Henri Matisse all had legal careers before becoming famous creatives.
It actually makes perfect sense.
Whether conscious of it or not, legal professionals are constantly pulled toward creative thinking. Things like coming up with a negotiated settlement agreement, crafting a persuasive closing argument, and structuring a multi-party real estate deal all require tons of creative thought.
So, if we can agree that legal professionals need – and have – creative abilities, let’s talk about how they can use creativity to enhance their legal careers.
Embrace your inner creative
Somewhere along the line, creative people got a bad reputation.
The stereotypes about creatives tell us that they’re lazy misfits who don’t fit into society and are more likely to die poor than ever achieve any sort of financial success. Starving artists are starving, we think, because creativity is not a lucrative pursuit.
There are certainly some people who seem to confirm the stereotypes. Of course, there are also a lot of people who don’t.
Moreover, stereotypes like this leave out some of the best attributes of creative thinkers that actually make them terrific lawyers.
Indeed, Janet Reno, the first female Attorney General of the United States, posited that problem-solving is a critical skill for lawyers. Her theory was right on the money.
After all, why do clients hire lawyers? Because they have a problem that needs to be solved.
Anyone who has ever practiced law knows there is no one-size-fits-all solution for any legal problem.
On the flip side, some full-time creatives believe that all creativity is problem-solving. So, any way you slice it, it seems that lawyers — regardless of their adherence to outdated stereotypes – are some of the most consistently creative professionals around.
Learn to think on your feet – creatively
Every lawyer has that one task that scares them more than anything else.
For me, it was appearing before a judge and being subjected to questioning about a motion or opposition I’d submitted to the court.
It’s not that I wasn’t prepared. If anything, I was that nerd who over-prepared. It’s just that I never felt like I was any good at thinking (and responding to powerful people in black robes) on my feet.
You know what I could have done to fix that?
Indeed, some lawyers who have taken multiple improv classes swear by it.
Although most people think of improv strictly as a form of comedy, it is a creative practice that lends important skills like active listening, responding to questions persuasively, and – you guessed it – thinking on your feet.
Tell a good story
If you are a legal professional who can’t spin a good yarn, stop everything you’re doing and start studying the art of storytelling for lawyers.
Storytelling is critical for your success as a communicator. Whether you’re trying to sell an opposing party on your client’s latest business proposal or delivering a closing argument in a patent infringement case, the ability to tell a good story is your best friend.
In part, that’s because much of what we do as lawyers is highly technical and incredibly boring. We need to be able to communicate facts and law to various people in a way that keeps them engaged and, perhaps more importantly, persuades them that our point of view is the right one. Storytelling is the key.
Act like you mean it
Here’s another little wrinkle when it comes to being a great storyteller.
I know plenty of lawyers who can write the greatest story ever. Yet, when it comes to speaking it out loud, they leave a lot to be desired.
That’s where acting classes for lawyers come in.
These classes will teach you important things like how to maintain a trustworthy body language, how to move around a room gracefully as you speak, and even how to subtly change your voice so that your intonation engenders confidence.
That last point is no joke. I once had a jury consultant tell me that if I delivered my closing argument with a slight southern accent, I’d have much better results.
I thought she was crazy but, being from a southern family, I was able to pull it off in our next three practice sessions.
As it turns out, all three of our mock jury panels rated me higher in trustworthiness and believability than earlier panels had. Moreover, they sided with my client every single time.
It took every creative bone in my body to maintain that accent for days on end, but eventually it paid off.
Surround yourself with creatives
If you’re interested in being more creative but still don’t feel like you’re ready to commit to any of the above suggestions, then why not surround yourself with creatives?
Most states have organizations that pair lawyers with creative artists in need of legal help.
There’s a famous old saying that works well here: “you are the company you keep.” It’s possible that if you surround yourself with artists, you just might find some of their best qualities rubbing off on you.
At the very least, you might learn about some classes or other opportunities that will help you grow your creative skillset.
Whatever you do, never forget that as a lawyer, you are a problem-solver, and as a problem-solver, you are creative. Don’t forget to nurture that creative side. It just may give you the edge in your practice, in business development efforts, and in life.